Civic Learning and Engagement Overview

Citizenship is changing. Younger generations are developing different political values and attitudes about their responsibilities in public life. Variously termed digital natives, millennials, and dotnets, many young citizens who have come of age in a globalized world of technology and networks prefer charting their own personalized political paths. These civic styles embrace consumer activism, loosely knit issue networks, community volunteerism, and participation in a growing global political scene through campaigns and social forums. While these are all positive civic activities, there is a tendency to look away from government for solutions to important concerns. They are also less likely to see good citizenship as centering on a duty to participate in government through activities such as voting. Yet, as illustrated by the vibrant participatory media engagement in the 2008 election, the gap between different models of citizenship can easily be bridged when government, elections, and media offer interactive opportunities that motivate and engage young people.

The challenge is to recognize changing citizenship styles, and to fashion educational and social experiences that help young citizens maintain their identities while bridging the gap with government, elections, and leaders. CCCE Director Lance Bennett provides an overview of these issues in “Civic Learning in Changing Democracies: Challenges for Citizenship and Civic Education.

Educators, policy makers, youth workers and youth technology developers can recognize these generational changes and use the potential of digital information technologies to provide a rich, interactive environments for civic learning. Some of the challenges and prospects for civic learning and engagement online can be found in the volume Civic Life Online, which is available in free chapter downloads from the M.I.T. press.